Our little boy’s temperature was over 100 and heading in the wrong direction.
He woke in the night, hallucinating that bugs were climbing the walls in his bedroom.
We called the doctor at 2 a.m.
We were in his office six hours later. And when the doctor came into the examining room, he looked at our son’s arm and said, “I want you to go to the emergency room right now. Do you see these red dots on his arm? They’re a sign his capillaries are breaking down.
“His life isn’t in danger, but this is a life-threatening condition.”
Few words will send parents reeling more quickly than those.
We went to the hospital on that spring morning in 1985. We waited while our two-and-a-half-year-old son underwent tests. The first was to look for meningitis. Others followed.
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Worried is not a strong enough word to describe how we felt.
Test results showed nothing.
Our little boy was seriously ill, and no one knew why.
Stomach-churning, heart-stopping fear arrived.
Our son was admitted to the hospital. He was given an IV. His arm was so small and thin nurses had to create and tape a foam brace for support.
For the next week, my wife and I spent our days at the hospital, taking turns to leave to pick up our 5-year-old son each afternoon.
We alternated nights at the hospital.
While Pete slept, we worried.
Fortunately, he was getting better each day. But “life-threatening” is not a phrase you ever forget. And while his recovery was going well, no one was able to identify the problem.
And without that identification, a sliver of concern and anxiety gnawed at us.
On my nights in his hospital room, I would stretch out in the chair that converted into something resembling a bed and listen to the small radio I had brought from home.
This was long before satellite radio or music streaming services. To listen to music on a phone would have required calling my wife and having her play records into the receiver.
So, I slowly turned the dial, the sound barely audible, until I found something that would offer a bit of solace and a larger amount of distraction — Atlanta Braves baseball games.
The Richmond Braves, Atlanta’s Triple A team, played about five miles from the hospital in those days.
Many Atlanta players had come through Richmond. It was easy to follow them because the power of WTBS, Ted Turner’s superstation. It covered the country through the magic of cable, brought the A-Braves and their broadcasters, Skip Caray, Ernie Johnson Sr., John Sterling and Pete Van Wieren into our home almost every night.
During each game, the announcers split their duties. One pair began the telecast while the other pair started the radio broadcast.
Halfway through the game, they switched.
At what was then the most frightening time in my life, the voices of Caray, Van Wieren, Johnson and Sterling were soothing. Their descriptions of the action brought enough relief to help me fall asleep.
Don’t misunderstand. This is not an ode to baseball, not a testimony to its magical, mystical restorative and healing powers. It did not wash away my fears or transport me to some higher level of consciousness.
It was baseball, not a miracle cure sent overnight from the Mayo Clinic.
But it was presented by pleasant, professional and knowledgeable announcers in a quietly entertaining manner at a time when that was something I needed.
I’ve never forgotten that week in the spring of 1985. And it seemed only fair to finally say “Thank you” for what that broadcast crew provided.
Sterling, 84, is the only surviving member of that quartet.
“First of all, and most importantly,” Sterling said, “how is your son?”
He’s fine. Played soccer in college. Earned a master’s degree in sports management. He’s 39, married and has two young children.
“Excellent,” Sterling said.
Sterling still is working. His voice still is as strong and smooth as it was all those years ago. He’s with the New York Yankees and has done their radio play-by-play since 1989 as well as a wide variety of other Yankees-related and sports-related ventures.
I thanked him for what he and his colleagues provided for me that summer 37 years ago.
“It was my pleasure,” he said. “It’s a labor of love.
“Baseball is a great radio sport. The pace of the game allows you to display much more of your personality. You have a lot of time to talk, and people become very close to you. They hear us as human beings. We’re almost like family members.
“When you start in this business, you’re taught to imagine you’re talking to one person, even though you might be talking to a million. We know we’re talking to all sorts of people, shut-ins, widows, the blind, the young, old and middle aged.”
And sometimes, that one person Sterling is talking to is a worried father, seeking solace and a soothing voice as he lies next to his young son’s hospital bed.